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Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has everyone wanting to understand mental health issues. But as someone who suffers from depression, I need you to do this.
The demise of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, has left the country in shock. And as usual, a celebrity’s death has become a subject of ‘tragedy porn’ to feed the TRP hungry media.
With headlines like ‘Sushant ka mann aakhir itna ashant kyun tha?‘ to ‘Dekhiye aaj raat 9 baje, Sushant ki murder mystery,’ mainstream media has stooped to a new low. His death is being subjected to unwarranted scrutiny.
News channel reporters are trying to dig out each and every little detail of his life – private and professional. Right from his financial condition to his personal relationships, they are trying to access everything. This callous attitude while covering his death is symptomatic of a general social attitude towards mental health conditions.
Mental health conditions like depression often come with a social burden of stigmatisation of a Mental Health Warrior (MHW) An MHW myself, I have experienced people failing to empathise with me, in the real sense of the word.
Rather, their approach is that of sympathy for the person suffering. This sympathy is based on perceived notions and stereotypes. These notions are shaped by the popular media and cinema which show depression as ‘sadma’ (trauma) or something pertaining to sheer sadness.
Another dominant impression these platforms portray when it comes to an MHW is that of a perpetually sad person. Or it is that of a hysterical person who shows unpredictable behavior and lack of self-restraint. As a result, in reality, these individuals with such issues end up being ‘socially distanced’ and alienated.
This alienation can occur in form of people complaining of ‘negative vibes’ from a person suffering from mental health issues. Or they might be generally condescending towards the person and use patronising language while talking to them. For example, saying things like, ‘your condition is not so bad,’ or ‘there is nothing wrong with you, you’re just overthinking this’ cause more harm than good.
Often this perception by the people stems from the notion that a MHW has reduced mental faculties and cannot comprehend things. Such experiences are dehumanising and might have dangerous consequences in the form of being gas-lit. It might even lead to further deterioration of the mental health condition.
First, as a society, we need to know that issues related to mental health can be quiet nuanced and often ‘friendly’ counselling without proper training is not the wisest thing to do. It might just turn out to be counter-productive.
Instead, one could help by being a good listener. A person suffering from some underlying mental health condition like depression mostly needs someone to hear them out. They often need someone to listen to them without being critical of it or trying to solve ‘the problem.’
Secondly, we need to understand that mental health issues like depression are NOT always a consequence of some major failure in any facet of life. In fact, there can be one or more psychosocial or biological factors behind it leading to the chemical change in the person’s brain triggering the depressive episode. Personal tragedy is not always the reason and mere speculations about it would be of no real help.
Thirdly, one should not underestimate the power of words when we talk of social support. One such word can be ‘depression.’ The word itself is, sadly, thrown around in a dangerously casual manner. It is used for describing anything from generic sadness to alcoholism.
Even the choice of words by Indian media while reporting Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death is quite reprehensible and unethical. It isn’t just reductionist and desensitises the public but also is a grave social injustice to Mental Health warriors.
There have been studies in the past which show the relationship between a celebrity’s death and spike in suicide cases. This can be further exacerbated by irresponsible reporting that we have seen in this case. Even the phrases used to describe suicide are castigating in nature.
Phrase like ‘committed suicide’ deserves to be frowned upon, because it reduces suicide to a ‘sin’ or a ‘crime.’ This can often be seen as victim blaming.
Other occasion where we need to pay attention is, while empathising with a MHW. Using sentences like, ‘I am with you in this,’ ‘I understand,’ and ‘You are a strong person’ can be really helpful.
There are multiple obstacles in the path of an MHW that inhibit them from seeking the required help. In a lot of areas in our country there is complete absence of mental health professionals. Even where mental health facilities are present, the stigma associated with mental health conditions is too vast for people to seek help.
Social factors like gender roles especially hamper men from seeking help. Often after visiting the doctor people discontinue medical treatments that are prescribed in chronic or acute cases. This is done as there is another stigma associated with mental health medication. In this scenario, encouraging MHW to seek professional help becomes very important.
Additionally, as a society, we need to start an open conversation regarding mental health issues, to educate ourselves and remove stigma around the issues. We also need to understand that mental health issues exhibit themselves in various forms, from ADHD to chronic depression, from social anxiety to schizophrenia.
Naturally, the needs of individuals suffering from them vary. These nuances need to be understood and we need to be mindful of them while interacting with the MHW. Empathy and destigmatisation of mental health issues can go a long way to improve the quality of life of mental health warriors.
A version of this was earlier published here.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.
Aasra, Mumbai: 022 27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044 2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033 2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080 25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040 66202000, 040 66202001
Picture credits: Pexels
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Lawyer, Intersectional Feminist, Activist, Mental Health Warrior
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